What is a a good general purpose lens – one lens to rule them all?

If a zoom: probably the 24-70L or the 70-200 F2.8. Fast, sharp and useful for many applications. I always have both of these lenses, no matter what assignment.

If a prime: probably the 35mm L or the 50m 1.4. Sharp and lightweight.

For someone totally new to photography:

Keep it really simple: the 50mm 1.4. It is small and sharp and will help you get the basics.

For your first L lens: (a lens for someone getting more seriously into photography):

The best paradigm shifting lens that you can use in nearly any situation is probably one of the 70-200 L zooms. If it is your first L lens, you probably have a kit lens, and any of the 70-200 L lenses will be a big upgrade.

I want to try a 70-200 L zoom, but holy smokes, there are four of them! Can you explain the differences between the 70-200 options?

All of the 70-200 lenses produce sharp, contrasty images with great color and bokeh. There are four varieties: F4 non-IS, F2.8 non-IS, F2.8 IS Mark 1 and F2.8 IS Mark 2. (If you are new to these lenses and none of the explanations make any sense to you, feel free to call me at 215.821.7161 and I can ask you a few questions and give you a recommendation based on what you are trying to do.)

The 70-200 F4 non-IS ($45) is the smallest and lightest of the series. A good choice for long days in brighter outdoor conditions. Bad choice for indoors work.

The 70-200 F2.8 non-IS ($60) is a great portrait lens and good for bright indoor situations. Cost is $60. Heavier than the 70-200 F4.

The 70-200 F2.8 IS Mark 1 ($75) is a fantastic indoor and outdoor lens. Great for low light indoor situations – the image stabilization (IS) unit will really help out when your shutter slows down to 1/30th or so.

The 70-200 F2.8 IS Mark 2 ($95) is an upgrade to the 70-200 2.8 IS. It is sharper, and the image stabilizer is a bit more effective, so you can slow the shutter speeds down even more.

What about for low light work?

The 24mm 1.4 L and 35mm 1.4 L come to mind. In fact, most of the L primes are good candidates – the 50mm L, 85mm L and 135mm L should also be on your list. Combined with a good sensor like what you find on a 5D Mark 2, you will find that these lenses see brighter than your eyes.

And for weddings?

I bring around 10-13 lenses for the weddings that I shoot, so it is hard to say what to use. Depends a lot on your style.

I find these ones I use the most: 35mm L, 85mm L, 70-200 2.8 IS L Mark 2 and the 24-70 2.8 L. But I usually bring another 8 lenses.

For sports:

The 70-200 2.8 IS L Mark 2, the 300mm 2.8 IS L and the 135mm L. Very sharp, very fast focusing lenses. You will feel right at home next to the pros from Sports Illustrated. If you need extra range, put a 1.4x or 2x extended on them. They will still work beautifully.

For portraits:

The 85mm 1.2 L, the 135mm L and the 70-200 2.8 IS Mark 2. All ridiculously sharp, fantastic color. The 85mm 1.2 L is slow to focus. Experts only.


The L primes are all very popular with filmmakers, and in particular, the 85mm 1.2 L and 135mm L. The bokeh on those optics makes it look like you are shooting with $100k cine lenses. If you are making a skateboarding movie, you will want the 15mm fisheye, of course.


Of course, the 24mm TS-E Mark 2 and 17mm TS-E tilt shift lenses. But if you are an architectural photographer, you already knew that.

Something that will give a different look?

The 45mm tilt shift can produce some hauntingly images (when used properly – it has a bit of a learning curve).

News photojournalism and documentary work?

Tough call. Really depends how you shoot. For fast situations, the three L zooms are what I would reach for (the 16-35 2.8 Mark 2, the 24-70 and the 70-200 Mark 2). For slow, low light work, the L primes are the obvious choice.

A lens that will make my spouse less upset at me for ruining the monthly budget?

Haha. Well, in that case, the 70-200 F4. Sharp, inexpensive, and the long focal length will make your spouse look 10 pounds lighter. Who wouldn’t appreciate that?